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Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

Gearing up for Prince Caspian

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Scanning through Evangelical Outpost, I came across this little gem over at BeliefNet highlighting 12 Spiritual Lessons from Prince Caspian, the novel as opposed to the film. 

I think I had started to feel a little lethargic in regard to Narnia lately.  After going through the list and getting a little refresher on the story, I’ve gotten amped again to see it.

The latest trailer did not really impress me – the film looks a little too much like a riff on The Lord of the Rings, something I think Tolkien and Lewis would be the first to agree that Narnia is most definitely not. 

Fans have nearly driven themselves ape over images from the trailers, most of which are merely quibbles.  Film is a different medium than a novel – an adaptation will sometimes involve embellishments, subtractions or additions, to make a literary story work visually.  Since Lewis left so much to the imagination in his narratives, such development is almost required. 

I make no predictions about this one.  The previous film hit more beats than it missed, but the ones it missed flew wide of the mark.  I would hate to see similar results this time around.  The strength of Caspian rests on the story.  The closer the filmmakers stick, the better the film will be. 


Written by taj

May 6, 2008 at 10:58 am

59 days and counting…

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I’m falling behind.  Some of the scenes I’m working on set up later pay-offs that the first draft didn’t really nail.  Actually, keeping with the metaphor, the hammer missed the nail completely, and splintered the wood quite badly. 

All of the easier scenes are done and just waiting to be pasted in with the whole.  But after two days, I’m about two pages short of the daily goal.  Not that the writing has been the only challenge; there was a trip to the ER last night (mother and baby are fine – no worries), and the overtime I had to work the day before. 

The trip to the ER turned out to be nothing.  Pregnancy is just strange, and the things that can signal danger can also be just as benign.  Thankfully, this was the latter. 

The overtime was a different matter, somewhat similar to that moment in ScroogedRose! You have to work late!  If you can’t work late, I can’t work late.  If I can’t work late…I CAN’T WORK LATE!  So said the fellow with whom I usually carpool.  Kind of.  He doesn’t normally call me Rose.  And I needed the money, so I wasn’t going to complain. 

Anyway, enough with the excuses.  Gotta try and hammer out six pages tonight.  And Lost is on.  (sigh) Choices. 

Written by taj

May 1, 2008 at 8:54 am

Time to do the math…

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OK.  As of today, there are 61 days to deadline to finish the screenplay.  In order to complete the second draft and get it into the hands of the people we’ve selected to give us feedback in time to complete the third draft, I’m looking at pumping out four pages a day until the current draft is complete. 

While this would normally mean I’m stepping back from the blog, I’ve decided to update my progress here as a kind of accountability.  A way to “put up or shut up” so to speak. 

So, as of this writing, two of the allotted four are complete.  Two more to go before sunset. 

As the work progresses, I’ll start to reveal details of the plot — something I’ve avoided doing thus far with some degree of intention.  So here’s the basic premise:

A dual adventure that touches two continents — A reporter searches for a lost treasure as he investigates incidents of murder and intrigue that took place in an Australian mining town in the early 20th century.  A surprise tip leads him to the untold story of an oft-ignored legend. 

That oft-ignored legend may change before submission, so for the time being, I have to keep mum.  When the second draft is completed, I’ll try to post the first ten pages, just so everyone can have a look at the work. 


Written by taj

April 29, 2008 at 2:12 pm

Subjective slants, and other things

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After posting the Cloverfield review, I looked around to see what others were saying, and I have since spoken to other friends who’ve seen the film, and I learned something interesting.

Not everyone agrees with my assessment of the film.

And that’s OK – I’m not so pretentious to believe my opinion is always the right one.  Opinions differ.  Christianity Today gave it 3 ½ starsLibertas only gave it one. I’d’ve probably given it two – on one or two levels, the film does succeed.  I shy away from rating films that way because it can be so subjective. 

The way I see it, a review is just my take, and in the case of Cloverfield, there was not a lot of time between watching the film and writing about it.  Sometimes art takes time to penetrate.  My opinion could change.  As of this writing, it still stands. 

One conversation at work this morning resembled an old Siskel and Ebert exchange.  My friend looked at the film as something in the vein of the old Gojira films – a simple concept running on simple execution. There’s a lot of merit to that perspective; the filmmakers themselves have said that was what they were shooting for. 

One of the challenges I have whenever I write a review is stepping outside of my own perspective and letting the work speak for itself.  Cloverfield tells a simple story set against a violent and gargantuan upheaval.  That the simpler aspects annoy me says more about me than the actual film, and perhaps I need to do a better job delineating the two when I write one of these. 

Reviews ought to dialog.  Disagreements will abound, and their validity or merit will depend on any number of factors.  Writing about art requires the writer to bring part of him(or her)self into the work.  So I’ve read, anyway.  My annoyance, then, does carry some weight.  The artists involved may have achieved the goal they set out to reach; it does not mean that I have to like it.  I do believe, however, that it warrants an acknowledgement at the very least. 

I still feel very green when it comes to writing reviews.  I look at some of the ones I wrote two, or even one, years ago, and I can see where I’ve grown.  I read Overstreet, Chattaway and Ebert, and I see I still have a long way to go. 

Written by taj

April 24, 2008 at 12:57 pm

Smash Cut – “The Forbidden Kingdom”

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Folklore follows a particular template, as most stories within a genre will do from time to time. The Forbidden Kingdom follows that template almost to the letter, and in many respects, it actually works in favor of the film. It’s the surprises that elevate it from just another mediocre kung-fu movie into an enjoyable little ride that doesn’t require a lot of effort.

Teenage kung-fu junkie Jason Tripitakus (Michael Arangano, Seabiscuit) buys bootleg martial arts DVDs off an old Chinese shop owner when he isn’t at home watching them, or asleep, dreaming about them. His dreams take him into a tale of the Monkey King — the ancient character of Chinese folklore, originally conceived four hundred years ago as an allegory for the fabled monk, Xi You Ji.

The film borrows particular elements of the legend — the king’s rebellious nature, and his defiance of authority — but twists them to suit its plot. Instead of earning the wrath of the Jade Emperor, the Monkey King’s pluck gains him favor among the powers on high, until he is betrayed by the Jade Warlord, and cast into stone. Upon his imprisonment, he flings his magical staff far from the kingdom, to await its return by a prophesied warrior.

Naturally, upon visiting the shop for more DVDs, Jason stumbles on to the old bo staff. On his way to school, some punks rough him up and discover his haul of illicit media. They force Jason to let them into the shop, where they proceed to search for cash, trash the store, and shoot the owner. As the owner struggles, he pushes the staff into Jason’s hands, and breathes an order — return this to its rightful master. As he escapes the pursuant punks, Jason falls, and somehow plummets into ancient China.

Once in China, Jason quickly meets the rest of his fellowship, intercut with ample opportunities to see Jackie Chan and Jet Li work their own fun and fabled magic. Fight choreographer Wu-Ping Yuen delivers, as usual, though he does recall in places the tired duels of Neo and Smith.

Themes of revenge, courage and immortality rear their familiar heads, but the filmmakers wisely avoid the temptation to force feed their points. Plenty of fighting, plenty of war, and the plot sticks to stock development. In a few places, it even recalls The NeverEnding Story. Fifteen minutes in, a discerning viewer can probably piece together most of the plot, and its resolution. The script doesn’t ever reach a significant level of depth, but it never aspires to. It manages to land a couple successful twists, if one were not so inclined to check out IMDB before heading to the theater, that is. Otherwise, even those secrets are easily spoiled.

Its one gaffe might rest on the lazy inclusion of a crucifix, which hangs around the neck of — you guessed it — the greasy punk who likes to beat up our hero. Yet, considering hoodlum and gang iconography, one could argue for its accuracy. Kingdom treads comfortable waters. It neither challenges, nor instructs, but it does provide an escape, at least worth the price of a matinée if you’ve got a couple hours to kill. Folklore nerds and kung-fu geeks will likely get the most out of this one. Everyone else be sure to check your brain at the door.

(photo (c) Lionsgate)

Written by taj

April 20, 2008 at 1:15 am

Indiana Jones and the Cutting Room Floor

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Hollywood Elsewhere reports Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is locked and ready to roll (HT: Looking Closer Journal) with a running time of 140 minutes plus. That makes this the longest Indy adventure of the four.

Fan chatter likes to go back and forth over issues like this, but the running time indicates little except for, well, the length.

There was an interview Steven Spielberg gave some time ago where he said his cut of Raiders ran a little over two hours. Lucas trimmed it down to 115 minutes. The trims, Spielberg had said, covered mainly the opening approach to the Hovito idol, and the climax involving Belloq open the Ark. Spielberg had envisioned a grand operatic/special effects blowout. Lucas made it leaner, he said, and the film was better for it.

140 minutes might feel a long way from lean. But some stories require more time to develop, and the magic of making a longer film work sometimes depends what ends up on the cutting room floor.

The perception of time when watching a film is very elastic. Theater houses and studios prefer shorter running times for their films to allow them to play more times in a day, and thus, earn more dollars. Or so the thinking goes. Dances with Wolves, however, upset that paradigm for the first time in decades with its release in 1990.

Its theatrical cut runs about three hours, though a recent DVD release of an extended cut of the film allows audiences a look at what dir. Kevin Costner originally left out. The new cut pushes four hours, involving minor, more character defining subplots. And it’s a bloated mess.

James Cameron obliterated the paradigm with the success of Titanic, a film he previewed for test audiences three times before settling on the final cut. Among the first complaints he received about the film involved its length — 202 minutes. Only two of the 20 people pulled aside at the final preview said it was too long. His final cut lands only seven-and-a-half minutes shorter than the first one he screened.

While less is usually more, sometimes the opposite is true. The theatrical cut of The Abyss – another Cameron epic – runs about 140 minutes. It’s a decent cut, awkward in places, particularly the ending. The story itself doesn’t really fit into one mold. It’s an undersea adventure that’s part sci-fi, part love story, part Journey to the Center of the Earth.

Cameron only previewed the film once. His audience had come indoors from a 110 degree heat wave to sit in a theater with a broken air conditioner and watch a film that pushed three hours. Feedback wasn’t exactly positive; as a result, Cameron cut 45 minutes out of the film.

In1992, Cameron went back and restored those 45 minutes on a laserdisc release. And the result is a far superior film. The middle and third acts find much greater context, especially the climactic moments involving one man’s selfless love standing in the gap for all humanity – a theme the original cut had excised completely.

A 140 minute running time takes Crystal Skull out of the typical Indiana Jones mold (the previous three installments have all kept to roughly the same length), but doesn’t bear any significance on the perceived strength of the film. Spielberg can handle a 140 minute picture. Take a gander at the trivia list over at IMDB – this film’s in good hands. I doubt it’ll disappoint.

(Quick note: many of the facts involving Titanic and The Abyss were pulled from Paula Parisi’s excellent book, Titanic and the Making of James Cameron, New York: Newmarket Press, 1998 )

Written by taj

April 17, 2008 at 8:05 pm

After the read-thru

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Just finished my first re-read of the screenplay’s first draft after leaving it on the shelf for two and a half weeks.  And it is worse than I thought.  As I said to friend earlier, it’s filled with so many holes, Clint Eastwood could take a shot at it and miss.

Over the last several weeks, I’ve read lots of screenplay material — workbooks, blogs, and screenplays I could find floating around out there on the ‘net.   Actually sitting down to hammer one of these things out, though, has made the whole thing so much more real.

I started making a detailed chart of the plot, aiming to fix the weakness the first draft highlights.  I still have some pay-offs in desperate need of a set-up.  I’ve even started playing around with changing the MacGuffin.  And, the whole thing still needs a title.

A word about the MacGuffin — coming up with something compelling, without making it look silly, is a real talent.  The perfect MacGuffin — to me, at least — was the Ark of the Covenant in Raiders of the Lost Ark.    

Three months to deadline, folks.  So, blogging’s gonna be light for a while.  I’ll pop in here and there, but I can’t promise anything really substantial.  I, and the rest of the volunteer staff that used to contribute to Infuze are all waiting for this site to take off.  When it does, I’ll hopefully be returning to movie reviews.  Till then…

Written by taj

April 3, 2008 at 10:26 pm